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The best Shanghai street food | Insight Guides Blog

The best Shanghai street food

Shanghai’s street food provides more than mere sustenance – it’s a chance to experience a fast-disappearing way of life. In spite of the city’s huge ongoing restaurant boom, most locals probably have at least one snack a day on the street. Here is our guide to the best Shanghai street food.
Xiaolongbao, steamed dumplings. Photo: Shutterstock
Xiaolongbao, steamed dumplings. Photo: Shutterstock


Delicious Shanghai street snacks are available on practically every corner – are you ready to try them?

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Shanghai street food

Snacks and street food are available on many corners in Shanghai, but the greatest selection can be found in the Yu Garden Bazaar, where hordes of Chinese tourists patiently wait in line to sample the treats on offer. It might be something substantial, such as hearty crepe-like jianbing omelettes, or just a piece of fruit on a stick – all sold by the city’s itinerant street vendors.


Perfectly in tune with the rhythms of Shanghai’s pangs of hunger, these street vendors appear in doorways and on street corners early in the morning, outside schools, metro stops and big office buildings towards the end of the day, and even on side streets late at night. The vendors often come from neighbouring provinces. They perpetuate an important tradition of sharing the typical dishes from their villages with Shanghai. Consequently, these foods will become absorbed into the melting pot that is Shanghainese cuisine. Sample the culinary delights of Shanghai street food when visiting the city as part of Insight Guides' Complete China: Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai trip.


Breakfast

Almost always eaten on the run, Shanghai street food breakfast invariably consists of youtiao, a long, fried doughnut, washed down with freshly brewed, hot soybean milk – a local favourite. For the Shanghainese version of a breakfast burrito, try a jianbing pancake. Filled with fried egg, a crispy bean curd sheet, coriander and chilli sauce, vendors cook them on a steaming griddle and roll them up to takeaway. You can also try steamed baozi bread rolls fresh from big bamboo steamers, served with fillings including pork, vegetables or sweet red bean paste.


Steamed buns (Baozi) and fried breadsticks (youtiao) with soy milk. Photo: ShutterstockSteamed buns (baozi) and long, fried doughnuts (youtiao) with soybean milk. Photo: Shutterstock


Dumplings

Shanghai dumplings are the city’s favourite street food snack. Streetside dumpling stands are easy to spot with their cylindrical bamboo steamers emitting puffs of fragrant steam. Shanghai boasts two signature dumpling specialities: shengjian mantou are fried in giant, crusty black pans. Filled with pork and scalding broth, they are crispy on the outside – the reason they are also known by their English nickname, ‘potstickers’.


Xiaolongbao are smaller, more delicate steamed dumplings that look like translucent money pouches. They are filled with pork, broth and, sometimes, luxurious crab roe. When not sampling street food, you can savour some of the best xiaolongbao in Shanghai at one of the branches of Din Tai Fung restaurant, while Yang’s Fried Dumplings sizzles up the finest potstickers.


Chinese traditional famous food - Stinky tofu. Photo: ShutterstockStinky tofu – a Shanghai street food staple. Photo: Shutterstock


Stinky tofu

You can follow your nose to the pungent odour of another Shanghai street food favourite – chou doufu, or stinky tofu. These small deep-fried cubes of fermented bean curd from Fenxian County on the outskirts of Shanghai are certainly a somewhat acquired taste. However, their fragrant flavours, best enjoyed when dipped in spicy chilli sauce, are definitely not to be missed.


Kebabs

A speciality of Muslim communities who live in the country’s far west province of Xinjiang, kebabs in China are known as chuan’r. You can often find them on sale after dark from handcarts on street corners outside bars and nightclubs. Seafood and vegetable varieties are available, but the classic chuan’r consists of small chunks of skewered, fatty lamb meat, grilled over hot coals and served with a sprinkling of chilli powder.